What is Site Structure?
A website should not be a random collection of pages and posts. It needs structure to make sense. Ideally, it is organized such that users and search engines are easily able to navigate it, understand it, and accomplish what they need to do. Site structure — sometimes referred to as site architecture —refers to how you organize your website’s content. It deals with how your content is grouped, linked, and presented to users and search engines.
Why is Site Structure Important?
Site structure is important for the user experience and the search bot experience.
First, think about the user experience. If a user can’t understand what you are selling and talking about or find what they are looking for, they are less likely to spend significant time on your website or make a return visit. That’s why site structure has a direct impact on user experience. You need to make it easy to navigate such that users can interact with your key content and primary products and services in as few clicks as possible. By making it easy to navigate your site, you increase the chances of converting customers and having loyal return customers.
Second, think about the search bot experience. A good site structure for technical SEO improves your chances of ranking highly in search results because it is essentially a guide for Google to understand what your site’s all about, understand the relationships between pages and determine the most valuable content, and to quickly crawl and index new and updated content.
Technical SEO: How Does Google Understand Site Structure?
Search engines crawl to read your site’s pages and compile copies of them in a searchable index. When searchers enter a query, the engine scans its index to filter and rank relevant pages. If your site isn’t crawlable, it's not going to get included in the index and therefore won’t be visible in search results. An effective information architecture and corresponding navigation system helps this process.
Read our full article on crawl budget to learn more about how search engine crawl and index your site.
How do you set up and maintain the site structure?
For most websites, the “pyramid” structure is ideal. In this site structure, you have 3 levels:
- Your home page
- Major categories and sections
- Subcategories — individual pages, and posts.
The homepage acts as the navigation hub for all else. It tells Google and human visitors what’s important and where they should go next on your website. As such, this is where you should selectively link to the most important level pages on the site.
SEO Practices for Good Site Structure
SEOs have a couple of tools at their disposal to improve the site structure. The following list of SEO best practices all aid in improving site structure.
Your site-wide navigation consists of the menu and breadcrumbs. The menu is the most common aid for navigation. All the main categories on your site should have a place on the menu on your homepage. Don't add too many links to the menu, otherwise, they become less valuable both for users and search engines.
A breadcrumb trail consists of clickable links usually at the top of a page or post. Breadcrumb trails reflect your site structure and help users determine where they are while surfing. Overall, using bread crumb trails improves the user experience and SEO.
Taxonomies — like the use of categories and tags — establish relationships that group together similar content. In this case of website structure, taxonomies group web pages with things in common.
Things like category distinctions and internal tags are convenient because people looking for more information on the same topic will be able to find similar articles more easily. If a category gets too large, you can divide them into subcategories to make pages even easier to find.
Tags are not hierarchical, they just say "This piece of content or page has a certain property within the index that might be interesting to the visitor," like a specific brand of clothing in an e-commerce site.
Try no to create too many tags — have a specific tag used at least twice — and make sure content that has the same tags genuinely belongs together. Useful for readers who want to read more about the same topic - make sure they are visible at the bottom top or in the sidebar of the page.
Contextual Internal Linking
Site structure is all about grouping and linking the content on your site. We’ve talked about classifying links on your homage and in your navigation and taxonomies, and contextual links are links within the copy on your pages that refer to other pages on your site.
For a link to be contextual, it should be relevant to the user reading the current content. The content of the page you link to is not the only thing that's important, so is the context of the link. Google uses the context of your links to gather information about the page you’re linking to. Google uses the anchor text (link text) to understand what the page you are linking to is all about and considers the content around the link to gain extra information.
You can help Google properly value and rank your pages by ensuring that you have contextually relevant internal links.
Contextual Links for Blogs
You should write extensively about the topics you’d like to rank for — including main articles and various posts about subtopics of that main content. Then link from these related posts to your cornerstone articles and vice versa. This way, you will make sure your most important pages have the most links and most relevant links.
Think of your website as a region and your articles are cities. Your internal links — or your navigation structure — are like roads connecting the cities. Your region has big cities and many small cities. The big city has tons of roads coming to it. The small cities have maybe one or two roads with roads to the nearest other small cities and one to the big city.
Contextual links for online shops
You generally don’t add contextual links to product descriptions because it could lead to people clicking away from the page. You might consider linking from a product bundle page to individual products, in the "Related Items," "Compare with Similar Items" or "Customers Also Bought" sections.
Landing pages are the pages you want your audience to find when they search for specific keywords you’ve optimized for. There are two types of landing pages: cornerstone pages and product landing pages.
Make sure your landing pages align with search intent. Ask yourself these questions when putting together a piece of content: What do people want to find? What do they expect to find? Are people just looking for an answer to a question? Are they comparing products before purchase? Are they intending to buy right away? This is often reflected in the type of query they make. Make sure the landing page fits this search intent.
Cornerstone content pages — these are the most important informational articles on your website. They provide the best and most complete information on a particular topic. The main goal of these pages is to deliver information and not to sell products.
Product landing pages — these pages only show what your visitors need to know to be convinced. These pages don’t hold all the information. They contain enough content for Google to understand what the page is about and what keyword it should rank for, but the main focus is on your products.
Remove old content
You may have links to pages that you want to remove so redirect that URL.
Ensure that categories are roughly the same size. They become too late when you write a lot about one specific subject and less about others. Rule of thumb: make sure one category is no more than twice the size of the other categories.
Improve internal linking structure
You want them to find your best content. Google needs to know how URLs are related to each other to evaluate how relevant this piece of content is to the rest of your site.
Understand Linking Structures
In web crawling, a node is a page and an edge is a link between pages. In data crawling, a node is an entity and an edge is a relationship between entities. If you think in terms of nodes and edges, it becomes clear why a traditional pyramid structure makes sense.
flat site structure
A flat site structure is when all pages are one click away from the homepage.
Theme pyramids are what we now know as a conventional site structure where topics go from a general phrase and narrow down to more specific topics and pages. The top of the pyramid is the home page and the bottom is individual posts and pages consisting of particular topics.
What is page depth? How is it addressed in site structure?
All pages should be accessible within 3 clicks from the site’s homepage. Page depth — the number of clicks it takes to get to a target page from your home page — can impact how your content ranks in search. Google sees pages as less important if they take several clicks to get there. Google has limited time and resources, so they prioritize crawling URLs with lower page depth. And as a consequence, pages with higher depth aren’t always added to or refreshed often enough in their index and don’t rank as highly as they could. Page depth tends to correlate with lower rankings.
There are steps you can take to ensure you aren’t burying pages too deep on your website.
- Don’t make Google work harder than it needs to.
- Direct the flow of your site via internal links. Pages deeper on the site suffer lower rankings in part because they are linked to (internally) less often. The more popular a page is - communicated via site hierarchy and the number of internal links pointing to it - the more likely and more often search engines are to crawl and index it.
- Don’t make people think — be empathic to your users and give them a way to navigate the site that doesn’t force them to feel lost. Internal links and breadcrumbs ensure pages aren’t buried deep.
How Do I Create a Site Structure Plan?
- Perform Keyword Research — It all starts with keyword research. To plan a good structure, you need to know the topics and primary keywords you are trying to rank for.
- Plan your structure and hierarchy — Pillars are top-level content pages covering the broader topic. Consider how you can cover a wider topic at a broad level within that page so you have opportunities to go specific within the cluster. These more in-depth pages provide specific answers about the broader topic and link back up to create an understanding that your content is connected.
- Consider URLs — When URLs are organized by topical relevance within folders it is known as URL silos. If you use URL silos because of technical restrictions, use internal linking to showcase the connection.
- Create clear navigation menus — a great indication of site's most important pages.
As your site grows, it gets more complicated. And as it gets more complicated, there are more opportunities for users and robots to get lost. Maintenance is critical.